Contributing Author: David FitzPatrick, MD
February is American Heart Month! This month is dedicated to raising the level of awareness about heart disease across the country.
This is the third of three parts on managing cholesterol. Part I defined the problem and Part II defined the solution. Today’s column will discuss how stress can affect cholesterol and the importance of making a commitment to a healthy lifestyle that includes daily exercise.
According to a recent long-term study, both men and women without a history of coronary artery disease or high blood pressure suffered from both diseases when they did not manage stress well. Those who allowed stress to upset them, (short fused and easily frustrated) had significant increases in cholesterol and blood pressure when compared with those who were more even-tempered and easygoing under stress.
Everyone encounters potentially stressful situations each day. For example, many face coping with a chronic illness or the loss of a loved one. For others, stress may be associated with financial shortfalls, making a presentation at work, or adequately balancing your time between family and career. For students, stress may be social or academic, with final exams and papers due.
In general, stress usually fluctuates over time. Interestingly, a stressful situation for one individual is perfectly comfortable for another. People handle stress differently. One thing is certain, life is full of potential stress and it cannot be avoided. But, you can learn to handle stress better. Exercise, meditation, and counseling are some resources you may want to explore.
Commit to Exercise
Exercise fights high cholesterol by reducing stress and by reducing body fat. The key to success when it comes to improving your life with exercise is to develop a regular, consistent program.
10 Tips to Stick to an Exercise Program
- Add variety to your program – stick to your basic program to meet your goals, but add variety to help you stick to your program. On off-days, walk in the woods, play tennis, ride a bike, or swim. One day, do upper body and the next do lower body.
- Find an exercise buddy – no one wants to let a buddy down, so the likelihood of compliance is much greater when you have someone depending on you. Make sure it is a good match. An exercise buddy may also help you discover activities that you wouldn’t have tried on your own.
- Make exercise a priority – friends and family must understand that exercise is important to you. It is a non-negotiable element of your day, like taking a vitamin or brushing your teeth.
- Exercise first thing in the morning – For many people it is best to exercise before all of the demands of the day come into play.
- Exercise on the way home from work – For others, it is best to exercise after they fulfill their other obligations but before they get home, eat and settle in. Some days it will vary.
- Exercise even when you are tired – keep in mind that you will be energized after you exercise.
- Keep a log of your exercise – writing down the dates, times, speed, distance, reps and sets can help you monitor your progress.
- Look for signs of progress – the scale is only one sign of progress. Make note of how your clothes fit, how much energy you have, the pep in your step and the improvement in your exercise log.
- Walk – incorporate walking into your daily routine. Walk to the store, walk the dog, walk when you play golf, and choose to take the stairs.
- Reward yourself – this is an individual preference, but try to avoid a food overdose as a reward. For example, when you lose 10 pounds, buy yourself a new dress. For the next 10 pounds, go away for the weekend. Do whatever works for you.
Researchers have found that the benefits of regular physical activity are numerous. Some of the more important benefits are:
- Loss or Maintained Body Weight
- Reduces LDL /Raises HDL Cholesterol
- Improves Circulation and Blood Pressure
- Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
- Prevents Bone Loss
- Reduces Stress/Muscle Tension
- Lowers Risk of Depression
- Improves Sleep Pattern
- Improves Strength and Flexibility
- Improves Balance/Reduces Risk of Falls
- Improves Immune System
- Improves Pain Threshold
Some simple suggestions for beginning an exercise program are:
- Get your physician’s approval
- Consult with a physical therapist to set up a program for your needs
- Buy good running sneakers – not walking shoes
- Plan to exercise 3-5 times per week for 30-35 minutes. Eventually, for those capable: exercise 4-6 days per week for 45 to 60 minutes
- Walk for aerobic fitness. Eventually, for those capable: bike, slowly jog, elliptical, swim
- Begin 5-10 minutes and add 1-2 minutes each session
- Walk in a mall if it is too hot or too cold
- Use light dumbbells, sandbag weights and resistance bands
- Begin with 5-10 repetitions and add 1-2 reps each session
- Alternate weight training days with walking days
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.
Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!
- Knopp, RH. Drug treatment of lipid disorders. N Engl J Med 1999; 341:498.
- Third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood cholesterol in adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). Circulation 2002; 106:3143.
Guest Contributor: David FitzPatrick, MD, cardiologist, Great Valley Cardiology, Scranton, PA.